Slafkovsky, Beck, Mesar, Harris, Guhle, Xhekaj, Barron, Heineman. We’re mainly talking about young people and struggling for a job at this stage of the training camp, but how many spots are there to fill? Actually very little.
Posted at 11:25am
But that doesn’t detract from the Canadian’s desire to become younger. The team is very young. The first center, Nick Suzuki, is only 23 years old. Cole Caufield is 22, Kirby Dach 21. In defense, Kaiden Guhle’s place, 20, seems cast in concrete.
What remains as an opening? Let’s attack first. Let’s imagine trios for the purposes of the exercise only, to paint a portrait of the forces involved.
Caufield Suzuki Hoffmann
Pitlick roof Anderson
Drouin Evans Armia
Sean Monahan, whose return to play is imminent, and Michael Pezzetta are not yet placed. If there are no injuries, there is already no more space. An exchange ? We’ve been working hard all summer to cancel contracts but Hoffman, Armia and Drouin are still there and transactions are rare at this stage of the season.
The Canadian will undoubtedly want to give his first pick, Juraj Slafkovsky, every chance to stand out. Physically, the young man seems ready to face the rigors of the NHL and if we can combine business with pleasure it would be no shortage to give fans a little extra element of the to offer entertainment will be rare.
But to compel Kent Hughes or Jeff Gorton to forego a veteran’s waivers, Slafkovsky has to be transcendent, which after two preseason games wasn’t the case.
With him closest to a position in Montreal are Emil Heineman, again very good Wednesday in Toronto, Jesse Ylönen and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard.
The 21-year-old Heineman, who was acquired by the Calgary Flames with a 2022 first-round pick (Filip Mesar), will have to be sent back to his Leksands club if he doesn’t earn a Montreal position due to a clause in his contract in Sweden. Barring a major turnaround, he will spend another season in Europe.
Mesar and Owen Beck, both 18, are doing well so far. But they will continue their education in the minors. Beck joins Mississauga in the Ontario Junior League. Because of his status as a European player, we can decide if Mesar is ready for the American League, otherwise he could play in Kitchener, against Beck among others, or in Sweden.
We’ll see a bigger wave next year when the contracts of Drouin, Byron, Monahan and Dadonov expire, not to mention possible transfers.
There is more openness in defence. Here are the forces involved, assuming Joel Edmundson is ready in time for the opener.
(*Will he be well in time?)
Schuneman is obviously the most vulnerable defender. He’s 27, undrafted, and has only 24 games of NHL experience.
But youngsters fighting for a position, Jordan Harris, Justin Barron and Arber Xhekaj will have to outperform him. After a tougher game Monday against the Devils, Harris and Barron, things looked better in Toronto on Wednesday as they battled for a right position (ideally Edmundson would play on the left).
Harris is in a more difficult situation as he plays on the right even when throwing from the left. He has held that position in the past in the NCAA and World Junior Championships, but the challenge remains daunting for a 22-year-old youngster taking his first steps in the NHL.
If Edmundson isn’t ready, there will be a spot for Harris, Barron or Xhekaj. If Edmundson isn’t ready AND Schuneman doesn’t deliver the goods, we could find three youngsters on defense to start the season. But Hughes will likely try to get reinforcements before that happens.
Xhekaj is placed with Wideman against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night. Interesting, interesting…
In goal, Martin St-Louis announced a fight between Samuel Montembeault and Cayden Primeau, but it would take a huge mistake from Montembeault’s part to send him back to the American League and risk losing him to waivers.
There’s still a lot of hockey to play, six preseason games, with increasingly experienced opponents. The goal is still far away!
Still uncertainty on defense in Ottawa
Coach of the Senators DJ Smith casts doubt on his third pair of defenders. Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub will form the first duo, rookie Jake Sanderson seems destined to start the season with Travis Hamonic, but there are no certainties after those four. Acquired dearly for Mark Stone a few years ago, Erik Brannstrom has not lived up to his promises since arriving in Ottawa and had a difficult preseason game against the Jets. We couldn’t trade Nikita Zaitsev which was disappointing last year and we were even able to put him on waivers. Nick Holden seems to be one of them. Zaitsev, Brannstrom and a young quartet who seem to like Smith, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson, Jacob Larsson and Maxence Guenette would therefore be fighting for the last available position.
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